Coronation Street star Jane Danson on Dancing On Ice, heartbreaking miscarriage and why her milestone 40th birthday was a turning point

Which is precisely why tonight she’ll be sequinned to within an inch of her life, while sporting a pair of ice skates and trying to stay upright in front of several million viewers live on TV.

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No biggie. “As the weeks have gone on, it’s kept cranking up a gear, getting more and more real, and like: ‘What the hell am I doing?’” she jokes.

Tonight’s debut on Dancing On Ice is all down to that big birthday in November. Jane is no longer interested in playing it safe and taking the easy option.

“It really did feel like a milestone,” she says.

“At the risk of sounding cheesy, you know you’re always encouraging your kids to try new things, but you almost forget to give yourself the same advice?

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“I felt like I was in a rut, stuck in a routine of working and looking after the kids. I’m really lucky that I do a job I absolutely love, but life can be quite samey. And now the kids are a little bit older, there are windows of opportunity for me to do something and I thought, actually, I should practise what I preach and try to do something for me.

“You get that fear, don’t you? You tell yourself: ‘I can’t, I can’t.’ But my 40th made me go: ‘Yeah, just do it! It doesn’t matter!’”

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She adds: “Life should be about challenging yourself and opening your mind up to doing different things. All those things in my head I’ve thought about over the years but not done, now I think: ‘Well, what’s stopping me?’

“Even if it doesn’t come off or go your way, it doesn’t really matter as long as you gave it a good shot.”

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Dancing On Ice isn’t the only experience taking Jane out of her day-to-day comfort zone. In 2018 she had a role in short film Sorceress, which gave her the confidence to write her own screenplay. She hopes it will go into production this year.

“I’ve written this tiny little short film, which I’d really like to make. I know enough people for that to happen so it’s not impossible. I also used to do a lot of singing as a kid, which I put on the back-burner, so I’d like to get back to that with lessons. Not necessarily to take me anywhere, but just to do as a hobby and to have a different outlet.”

She’s finally joined Instagram, too.

“I haven’t got a clue what I’m doing though! I haven’t got a clue how to do an Insta Story. It all seems quite positive and I’ve found loads of clothes and shops that I wouldn’t have otherwise found. It’s a nice way of sharing things.”

Despite being in the public eye for more than 20 years thanks to her joining the cast of Coronation Street as wild child Leanne Battersby back in 1997, Jane has managed to keep her private life very low-key.

She married actor Robert Beck in 2005, they have two boys, Harry, 12, and Sam, who turns 10 next month, and live “a very ordinary life” in Cheshire, not too far from Corrie’s Salford set.

The boys greeted the news that their mum was doing Dancing On Ice with utter indifference – in fact, Harry’s only comment was please could she not get voted off first “because it would be really embarrassing”.

Thankfully, Robert, 50, is a lot more supportive.

“If he’d said: ‘Oh god, it’s so dangerous,’ I might have thought twice,” she says. “But he said: ‘If you really want to do it, you should and I’ll support you.’

“He’s taken on the childcare much more while I’ve been training because I’ve been leaving so much earlier than normal, but marriage is about give and take, and supporting each other through things like this. And being in the industry, he knows how it all works so he’s not fazed by it.”

Jane and Robert met at the British Soap Awards in 1999 and quickly fell in love. Jane had already had a teenage crush on him from his days on Brookside in the early 1990s when he played Peter Harrison.

“I actually fell in love with him when I was about 14, but I didn’t know him then,” she laughs. “But yeah, very early on I just knew. It sounds weird, because I was so young – in photographs I look like a baby.

We both do, actually. But he’s my best friend, he’s my everything.”

While Jane works long days on Corrie, Robert is the primary carer, based at home with the boys and taking jobbing acting gigs when they come in and if they fit in with family life.

“When Rob’s working, my mum will come over, and we’ve got some great babysitters. But most of the time Rob does it. He’s wonderful at it, because I think it’s harder for men – it’s a woman’s world, isn’t it? Especially when they’re small. Everything is mums’ groups and support groups.

I’m just really excited to get started. Because I play such a miserable character, it’s kind of nice to be me for a bit

“The school day is short so he’ll only take a job if it’s worth it. He did a play a year ago that meant being away from home and I just happened to have a lot of holiday to take. So I stayed at home for six weeks while he went off, and it was beautiful because I got to take the kids to school and do all that.

“We’re fortunate enough that one of us has got a regular job at the moment, so it fits in quite well. We’re a team.”

Although she took a four-year break from Corrie in 2000 and starred in medical drama A&E and The Bill, Jane is one of the Street’s longest-serving cast members and Leanne is part of the Weatherfield fabric.

“We had an actress come in a few months ago who asked how long I’d been on the show and I said: ‘On and off, 21 years,’ and she said: ‘Wow, that’s like my whole life!’”

She winces and then laughs.

“Urgh! But no, I’m so proud of being part of such a massive show and I’ve been lucky enough to have some huge storylines over the years. It’s brought me so many opportunities, not just professionally, but in my personal life, too. I met my husband, I’ve got children and that probably wouldn’t have happened without Corrie. So I owe it quite a lot really.”

As a character, Leanne has evolved over her two decades on the Street, going through drug abuse, prostitution, countless affairs, several divorces and an unplanned pregnancy, but ask Jane if she likes her and she hesitates. Ask her if she’d be friends with her in real life and she’s unequivocal.

“No, I think she’s too gobby. I mean, I’m gobby, but she’s… I’d be a bit scared of Leanne, I think.

She’s had a hard life, she’s had to toughen up and even when things come together in terms of stability, I’m always mindful that she’ll fall off the rails

"She’s a bit of a loose cannon, you never really know what her next move is. I suppose I have to like her, even though sometimes I’m like: ‘Argh, what are you doing?’

“What I love is that she’s so sanctimonious, but every now and again it’s like she’s been let out of the bag and she totally screws up. She’s had a hard life, she’s had to toughen up and even when things come together in terms of stability, I’m always mindful that she’ll fall off the rails. She likes a bit of danger.”

Of all the hard-hitting storylines Jane has been involved in, it was the heartbreaking stillbirth of Michelle and Steve’s baby Ruairi two years ago that affected her most deeply.

Jane suffered a miscarriage in 2014 and had kept her real-life grief bottled up until filming those scenes.

And this, coupled with the fact that Leanne was pregnant in the show at the same time, finally helped her speak out.

“I initially closed down a little bit because I’d not talked about my feelings. Knowing what Kym [Marsh, who plays Michelle] had been through herself [she lost her baby Archie at 21 weeks in 2009], I didn’t want it to look like I was going ‘me too’, but I was really suffering at the time. Really, really suffering.”

Jane says being asked in interviews about having more children was always incredibly distressing.

“Oh, it killed me! Every time the question came up… I think that’s why it came out in the end, because I was suppressing this sadness that had been building up and I just thought:

‘I can’t bear to be asked this question any longer.’ At the time I was feeling quite vulnerable, but now I feel fine and [speaking out] helped me. But it’s a personal choice. I think you know when people want to let you in and when they don’t.”

As well as helping Jane deal with her pain, it forged a friendship with Kym. They hadn’t worked together much before (“our characters had never massively collided”), but their shared experience as women and mothers brought them closer.

“As the storyline progressed, it did feel like the load was lightening a little bit. I got to know Kym better and felt more able to get [the storyline] out.

It was hard, I’m not going to lie, I found it all very difficult. But equally, somebody might have been watching who was feeling exactly the same as me. And it might have helped somebody get help, get counselling or whatever.”

Public reaction is generally positive and Jane is able to go about her business easily as long as she “avoids the Trafford Centre on a Saturday”.

However that changed two years ago, when she had a rough time on Twitter after some viewers took issue with Leanne’s “pregnant walk” and Jane faced an onslaught of mockery that became so much, she ended up coming off social media temporarily.

“We all make mistakes and nobody’s perfect,” she says now, with a shrug.

“Sometimes you’ve got to take things on the chin, but I don’t like it when it gets really personal – that’s when I back away. I had a little break from [social media], because it was hurtful. But ultimately you’ve got to move on.

“It can get quite intense, but you know, everyone has an opinion and you live and learn by it. I’ve definitely learnt that on Twitter!”

Corrie bosses have deliberately given Jane a quiet-ish couple of months so she can really
focus on Dancing On Ice.

“I’ve always watched it and gone: ‘Aww, I’d love to do that.’ And genuinely, my earliest memory is of Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean doing Boléro when I was about four. I remember when I was a kid wanting to try, but it just seemed out of my reach. I never really had the confidence.”

Jane has been partnered up with Sylvain Longchambon – she already knew him well through his marriage to close friend and Corrie colleague Samia, who plays Maria Connor.

Feeling sociable

Favourite platform?
I’m quite new to it, but Instagram seems friendly and positive.
Funniest person on Twitter?
Probably Simon Gregson (@simon gregson123). He can be quite funny.
What influences you?
I like learning about different products in a way that doesn’t feel too in your face.
Last DM?
It was to my friend Gillian, a make-up artist.
How do you take the perfect selfie?
Stick your flash on! That’s about it.

Sylvain and Samia met on Dancing On Ice six years ago.

“Obviously we’ve spent lots of social times together, but we’re getting to know each other in a teacher/pupil kind of way.

We both share the same work ethic and it’s been interesting getting to know him as a teacher – he’s quite firm! He’s not letting me get away with stuff.

But he’s also very calm and patient because my brain sometimes doesn’t work in the way he wants it to work.

“At the start I didn’t want him to think I was totally rubbish. But we’re having a laugh as well and we’re both putting the hours in.

“I’m just really excited to get started. Because I play such a miserable character, it’s kind of nice to be me for a bit.”

Jane says if you’d told her a year ago she’d be doing this now, she’d have laughed – that big birthday really has given her a whole new attitude. There’s a WhatsApp group with all the contestants that’s getting “quite competitive”, but for Jane “it’s more about competing with myself”.

She adds: “I’m really open to anything now. My whole outlook has changed.“And in future, if anything interesting comes up, rather than just saying no, which is what I’d normally do, I’ll think about seizing the day and saying yes.”

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